The storyline of Knight of Cups, Terrence Malick’s latest feature film, corresponds loosely to an allegory that Rick’s father (Brian Dennehy) used to tell him when he was a child. A prince is sent into Egypt to find a pearl; however, when he arrives, he takes a drink that the people offer him and forgets about the pearl and falls into a slumber. The journey back to his father is clear, but he cannot readily recall who he is or his purpose in the journey. He can choose, although perhaps not by his own informed choice, to follow the path to his father or to remain lost.
Rick (Christian Bale) is a successful screenwriter who resides in Los Angeles. He is wealthy as shown by his luxurious property, immaculate clothing, the countless people he has the opportunity to meet, and the exuberant parties he attends. We don’t see Rick write or type a word in Knight of Cups– he is “a man of words who has lost the use for words” as Christian Bale has described him. Rick seldom says a word onscreen. It is his subconscious that speaks as him through voice over. Dialogue is silenced often by ambient music, preventing us from listening to characters and we observe exclusively their movements and facial expressions. If the camera is taken to be reflective of Rick’s mannerisms, it is in these near-silent moments that Rick dwells in his own thoughts.
Rick is asked his name in numerous occasions. Sometime he answers and sometimes he doesn’t. It is as if others question the fact of his existence, knowing that his person is transparent and holds no impact on the world around him. They somehow know that Rick only observes and does not act on his surroundings. He has no identity.
Rick is a Romanticist character. He has his back turned to the camera often, speaks only a few words. He is always deep in thought, mysterious. He participates in luxury, is loved by everyone, and yet sincere in his sorrow. Rick is a character type that does not exist in the real world. We refuse to tolerate behavior similar to his. Rick is a person that we like to think we are. He experiences our fantasies of grandeur and nuances of emotion that we wish we could express so clearly.
Knight of Cups is not The Wolf of Wall Street– it is not based on a true story of decadent success. It is a series of impressions, of color and light, of movement, of sound. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki films beautiful people in gorgeous venues. He discovers the water, skyscrapers, train tracks, and the desert seemingly at the same time in a whirling, kaleidoscopic display of constant camera movement.